The thing that made Owen a utopian, rather than just an ambitious reformer, was that he took these foundational modern ideas---that man is not inherently corrupt, that character is formed from without, and that we can control how that happens---and concluded that the right sorts of institutions can mold individuals, and thus society, in whichever way we desire.
Never mind last night’s post, sometimes friends send links to things you’re glad to click on. This landed in my mailbox this morning from Uncle Merlin who for some reason feels intense pressure to join what he calls the Keurig Cult. I can’t help suspecting a lot of that pressure’s coming from within and he’s really trying to resist the temptation to buy a Keurig coffee machine for his shop. Whatever’s the case, I think he sees this video as science fiction in the sense that the original The Day the Earth Stood is science fiction.
What I want to know is who made this and if it’s what it looks like, a student film major’s project, because if it is, there’s somebody or some somebodies who deserve A+’s across the board.
It’s almost never a good idea to read the comments on any video on YouTube and I don’t recommend you read the ones on this one, unless you want to be depressed by the number of people in the world who have absolutely no sense of humor.
There are also appears to be a lot of people who haven’t seen even the trailer for Cloverfield.
This new clock can keep perfect time for 5 billion years.
"It's about the whole, entire age of the earth," says Jun Ye, the scientist here at JILA who built this clock. "Our aim is that we'll have a clock that, during the entire age of the universe, would not have lost a second."
But this new clock has run into a big problem: This thing we call time doesn't tick at the same rate everywhere in the universe. Or even on our planet.
"It's about the whole, entire age of the earth," says Jun Ye, the scientist here at JILA who built this clock. "Our aim is that we'll have a clock that, during the entire age of the universe, would not have lost a second."
Right now, on the top of Mount Everest, time is passing just a little bit faster than it is in Death Valley. That's because speed at which time passes depends on the strength of gravity. Einstein himself discovered this dependence as part of his theory of relativity, and it is a very real effect.
The relative nature of time isn't just something seen in the extreme. If you take a clock off the floor, and hang it on the wall, Ye says, "the time will speed up by about one part in 1016."
That is a sliver of a second. But this isn't some effect of gravity on the clock's machinery. Time itself is flowing more quickly on the wall than on the floor. These differences didn't really matter until now. But this new clock is so sensitive, little changes in height throw it way off. Lift it just a couple of centimeters, Ye says, "and you will start to see that difference."
This new clock can sense the pace of time speeding up as it moves inch by inch away from the earth's core.
I took this and the photos below one year ago today, October 5, 2013, intending to post them here back then. I don’t know why I didn’t. Yes, I do. The car and its crew were on their way to Detroit on their way back from Detroit which they’d reached the first time by way of Winnepeg by way of Edmonton by way of Yellowstone by way of Vegas by way California by way of the Grand Canyon by way of Texas by way of…Africa by way of Europe, having started in the Netherlands. I called ahead to friends in the newspaper business out there to alert them there were people coming to town with a great story to tell. I held off on the post, thinking I’d include the link to the articles my friends would write that I was sure would include lots of information I hadn’t been able to get in the short time I was able to talk to the drivers.
My friends never came through.
Anyway, after I realized my friends had let me down, I decided I could do the reporting myself by email, but I let it slide. Then I let it slide again. Then again. Then…life happened and while I was busy with that my meeting with the Model T and its owners just slipped my mind. But this morning I happened to be going to the supermarket and something about the weather or the view from where I parked in the lot jogged my memory.
I thought, Wasn’t it right around this time a year ago that Model T was here?
When I got home I went through the photos in my albums, found the pictures I took that day, and checked the date.
I still don’t have the information I was hoping my newspaper pals would gather for me but I figure I better post the photos and the story as I know it so far now or another year might get away from me.
So, after doing some more Googling for updates and re-visiting the owner’s website, here’s what I’ve got.
Late in the afternoon year ago today, which was a Saturday, I pulled into the lot at the supermarket and there was this jaunty jalopy parked in a back row, acting like it was minding its own business but really hard at work demanding intense scrutiny from the nosey likes of me and just begging to have its picture taken.
I believe in being kind to old cars.
Somebody sure had been kind to this one.
I’m hardly a car buff, antique or new, but I can appreciate a work of mechanical art and I took time to do some appreciating of the brass fittings, wooden steering wheel, red leather upholstery, pink velvet slip covers on the seats…
…forest green paint job. That amused me. Made me remember the old joke about the Model T, that you could get it in any color you want as long as that’s black.
I knew that wasn’t strictly true. I didn’t need to read it in Bill Bryson’s One Summer, America 1927, but since I’ve read it since, I’ll quote it, because Bryson puts these things better than I can:
Early versions of the car [the first rolled off the assembly line in 1908] came in a small range of colors but the colors depended on which model one bought. Runabouts were gray, touring cars red, and town cars green. Black, notably, was not available at all. It became the exclusive color in 1914 simply because black enamel was the only color that would dry fast enough to suit Henry Ford’s assembly line-methods and that lasted only until 1924, when blue, green, and red were made available.
Like I said, I knew that.
One thing to note is that the Model T came in several models. Ford intended the Model T to be affordable for everyone, but affordable is in the bank account of the buyer, and Ford recognized that every car wasn’t going to be used to meet the same needs. If I couldn’t have guessed by its size and roominess, the green paint job would have told me this particular Model T was a town car, built to take families to church on Sundays and for the owner to show off in a little bit when he drove to work or she drove downtown to shop.
I’m emphasizing the she up there because Ford had women in mind when he designed the Model T, although more as passengers than as drivers, something I didn’t know until I learned it from Bryson:
One central characteristic of the Model T now generally forgotten is that it was the first car of consequence to put the driver’s seat on the left-hand side. Previously, nearly all manufacturers placed the driver on the outer, curb-side of the car so that an alighting driver could step out onto a grassy verge or dry sidewalk rather than into the mud of an unpaved road. Ford reasoned that the convenience might be better appreciated by the lady of the house, and so arranged seating for her benefit. The arrangement also gave the driver a better view down the road and made it easier for passing drivers to stop and have a conversation out facing windows. Ford was not great thinker, but he did understand human nature.
The other thing is that right from the first, when the first cars hit the roads, women were getting behind the wheel (or steering sticks. Steering wheels were a later innovation). Women had been driving wagons, buggies, carts, and carriages for centuries, so why wouldn’t they drive horseless carriages? Car manufacturers were quick to recognize this and began designing and marketing accordingly but while keeping something else in mind. Expanding prosperity was allowing more and more married middle-class to actually be or at least think of themselves as ladies of the house with the interesting contradiction as a result: cars were advertised as simultaneously advancing women’s independence and reinforcing stereotypical gender roles. You can really see this contradiction in overdrive in car advertisements from the 1950s when women behind the wheels of their cars were depicted at the same time as good and responsible wives and mothers, independent spirits with lives and careers and needs of their own that they could take care of themselves thanks to their cars, and objects of sexual allure---Where was she going? Where had she been, all on her own?
Have to shift into reverse and back up here.
Either Bryson got it wrong about when black became the standard color for Model T’s, 1914, or some 1915 modes were built in 1915 and this particular car was one of the last available in green, or whoever restored it wasn’t a stickler for historical detail. But car collectors usually are sticklers. They’re also fussy. They like their cars looking as though they just rolled off the showroom floor, and what struck me was that the paint job didn’t look new. What I mean is that it didn’t shine. Obviously, it wasn’t likely the original paint and I had no way of telling how long ago it had been applied so there it could have been years old. But it didn’t just look time-worn. It looked road-worn. I didn’t spot any conspicuous scrapes, scratches, nicks, or dings, but the weather had definitely done a job on it. This wasn’t a museum piece or rich guy’s toy that spent most of its time garaged or wrapped in a tarp only to be taken out for car shows and weekend jaunts. This car had been driven.
The black lines on the map mark where it had been, the red chart where it was going. It had already traveled south through Europe, down the length of Africa, and most of the way around the United States and was on its way back to Detroit by way of New England and Maine and then along the Canadian border.
Like I said. It had been driven.
While I was standing there taking pictures and admiring this fact, three people in late middle age, a man and two women, came out of the supermarket pushing a couple of carts loaded with groceries up to the car. I saw them coming and guessed who they were well before they reached the car. The man and one of the women were thin and wiry in a way most Americans their age aren’t anymore. Sixty-ish Americans who aren’t overweight tend to be fit and trim or frail-looking and scrawny. These two had the spare builds of people who had gone easy on the beef and potatoes and soda all their lives without obsessing about it and kept themselves in shape not by going to the gym but by walking to the store and puttering around the house instead of parking themselves in front of their televisions for hours on end. The other woman was stout and hale, again in a way Americans her age usually aren’t, like someone who had always eaten well but not too well and hadn’t had the time or the vanity to watch her weight. You might say she’d grown heavy but it wouldn’t occur to you to say she’d gotten fat. In short, they looked like what I already knew them to be from the names and home address painted on the front fender, Europeans.
On the Mr and Mrs Sprat principle, the man and the second woman were a couple. Dirk and Trudy Retger of Edam in the Netherlands. (On the car it said Holland. And on a couple of places on their website and on one of their YouTube videos they identify their home as Holland, as well. Did I miss a memo?) It was their car and they were its usual drivers. The other woman, whose name I didn’t file away, was a friend who was only along for this part of the trip, one of what I learned later were several friends and relatives who came and went as their personal schedules allowed to act as co-pilots and assistant mechanics and, simply, to provide company.
Dirk and Trudy, accompanied on and off by these volunteers, were driving their Model T around the world. Not in one go. They were taking it in stages, returning home to the Netherlands between jaunts around, across, and up and down continents to rest, regroup, make needed repairs, and prepare for the next leg, the car crisscrossing the ocean by boat. After they were done with North America, their plan was to loop South America and swing up into Central America in 2014, spend the next year crossing Australia and Asia and finish by coming home west through Europe in 2015 when the car will be 100 years old.
They were all three friendly and open and willing to talk about the car and the trip---although Dirk did most of the talking---and, naturally, their English was good, but they were in a bit of a hurry to get back to the campgrounds where they were spending the night. They had guests coming for dinner and wanted to turn in early in order to get back on the road first thing in the morning. And here’s where I made my reporting mistake. Instead of asking what I really wanted to know, which was how did a car built in the United States a hundred years ago end up tooling its way around the world out of Holland and what had Dirk and Trudy had to do to make it road-worthy and where had they gotten the parts and why a Model T anyway, I asked them about this:
They have a cause. I don’t think it’s their whole reason for making the trip---they’re doing it for the fun and adventure and challenge---but they decided to do some good while making it. That is on their website along with a how to make a donation if you’re interested.
What isn’t on the website are answers to my unasked questions. I was hoping my friends in Detroit would get those questions asked and answered. Like I said, my friends let me down. You might think the Retgers and their Model T would be news wherever they went and in some towns they were. I did the Googling. But the reporters for newspapers in those towns apparently didn’t ask those questions. Amazingly, neither did anyone from antique car clubs they visited who met them and wrote about it on the club website. Instead of wanting to know about the car, it seems most people want to know about the drive itself and not as a driving adventure for human and car alike but as a sight-seeing tour. Among the sights the Retgers have seen are elephants in one of their campsites in Africa and Jay Leno.
I did learn that Dirk is a third-generation Model T buff. His father and his grandfather both loved the Model T. It’s not clear if either Retger seniors owned or restored their own cars. If Retger senior senior did there’s the possibility that it was around for World War II and so I’ve got more questions: Did it survive the war and how did it make it through if it did? What happened to it if it didn’t?
I’m planning to email Dirk and Trudy and ask them all my questions. I’m not expecting an immediate reply. Right now Dirk and a team of friends---Trudy’s back home but planning to rejoin them soon---are on their way into Argentina from the south, having come down the length of South America from Columbia through mountain regions of Ecuador, Peru, and Boliva and then along the Pacific coast of Chile to Tierra del Fuego. They’re headed for Brazil where they’ll finish this year’s leg of the journey. There’s a problem at the moment. A broken axle. But Dirk doesn’t seem too worried about it. They’re getting a tow from a Land Rover to a shop he knows of where he can get it fixed.
I wonder if he scouted out repair shops around the world ahead of time. He probably did. Something else to ask him, though.
Meantime, while waiting for him to get back to me---that’s assuming I don’t drop the ball on this again---I’ll hand things back over to Bill Bryson and give him the last word on Model T’s for today:
The Model T, like Ford himself, was an unlikely candidate for greatness. It was almost willfully rudimentary. For years the car had no speedometer and no gas gauge. Drivers who wanted to know how much gas they had in the tank had to stop the car, get out, and tip back the driver’s seat to check a dipstick located on the chassis floor. Determining the oil level was even trickier. The owner, or some other complaint soul, had to slide under the chassis, open two petcocks with pliers, and judge from how fast the oil ran out how much and how urgently more was needed. [That had changed by 1915. You can see in the third photo up that the Retgers’ Model T has four gauges, with the one on the left of the steering wheel appearing to be the speedometer.] For shifting, the car employed something called a planetary transmission, which was famously idiosyncratic. It took much practice to master the two forward gears and one reverse one. The headlights, run off a magento, were uselessly dim at low speeds and burned so hot at high speeds that they were inclined to explode. The front and rear tires were of different sizes, a needless quirk that required every owner to carry two sets of spares. [Scroll up four photos and there they are.] Electric starters didn’t become standard until 1926, years after nearly all other manufacturers included them as a matter of routine. [Another question for Dirk: Did his Model T come with one or did he install one during the rebuild? I’m assuming he and Trudy haven’t been handcranking the engine into action.]
Yet the Model T inspired great affection…For all its faults, the Model T was practically indestructible, easily repaired, strong enough to pull itself through mud and snow, and built high enough to clear ruts at a time when most rural roads were unpaved. It was also admirably adaptable. Many farmers modified their Model T’s to plow fields, saw lumber, pump water, bore holes, or otherwise perform useful tasks.
Again, that’s from One Summer, America 1927, in which Ford appears as a character not on account of his cars but because of his being the defendant in a lawsuit arising from his virulent anti-Semitism and his ill-conceived, ill-fated attempt to establish what he intended to be a model American community around a rubber plantation in Brazil supplying his factories in the United States with rubber for tires.
[Ford] hated…being dependent on suppliers who might raise prices or otherwise take advantage of him, so he always did all in his power to control all the elements of his supply chains. To that end, he owned iron ore and coal mines, forests and lumber mills, the Detroit, Toledo & Irontown Railroad, and a fleet of ships. When he decided to make his own windshields he became at a stroke the second-largest manufacturer of glass in the world. For owned four thousand acres of forests in upper Michigan. The Ford lumber mills proudly boasted that they used every bit of the tree but the shade. Bark, sawdust, sap---all were put to commercial use. (One Ford product still with us from this process is the Kingsford charcoal briquette.) Ford could not bear the thought of having to stop production because some foreign despot or business cabal was denying him access to some needed product---and by the 1920s he was the single biggest user of rubber on earth. Thus it was in the summer of 1927 that Henry Ford embarked on the most ambitious, and ultimately most foolish, venture of his long life: Fordlandia.
Bill Clinton talks with problem-solver, physician, engineer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, problem-solver, big dreamer, professional optimist, and definite non-whiner Peter Diamandis at Wednesday, September 24th’s closing session of the 2014 meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative about Diamandis book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think.
Come on, admit it. We just do.
We can’t help ourselves.
It’s because we spend so much time and energy arguing that things need to be better and that requires making the case that things are bad. Things are bad. But we can get so caught up in talking about what’s bad and how bad and why it’s bad and whose fault it is that it’s bad we forget there’s anything else including that there’s a hopeful point to talking about what’s bad.
Trouble is few of us have the power or the resources do much on our own about what’s wrong, and talking about what’s wrong without doing anything to fix it is just complaining and constant complaining turns into whining and whining turns into a habit.
Two of our favorite whines go like this.
Why isn’t anybody listening to us?
Why aren’t politicians doing what we want them to do?
Conservatives whine too.
This is new for them. That’s why they’re doing so much of it. It’s a novelty. A new sensation that excites them. Like little kids who’ve figured out how to make themselves burp, they have to hear themselves do it over and over again. They used to grump and harumph. That’s when they were focused on making the case that things are just fine the way they are and liberals should quit their whining. They still do this. A current variant is the You call yourselves poor? You have a refrigerator what more do you want nonsense.
Doesn’t occur to them that the answer might be, Food to put in it, would be nice. A way to pay the electric bill, like a job, would also help.
No, as far as they care to know, things are fine, and if they’re not fine, they could be worse. In fact, they were worse and not all that long ago, so go away and leave me alone and stop asking me to care about your problems, I have enough of my own.
But lately or what seems lately to me, they’ve taken up whining. I blame Nixon. It probably started before him, but he made whining his political idiom and infected the entire Republican party. Reagan didn’t change that. He indulged it and the chuckled at the effect. People still mistake his geniality for good humor and a cheerful nature. It was the cheerfulness of a salesman who knew he had the suckers on the hook. But he’s long gone and even his supposed heirs whine worse than Nixon.
They whine between shouts, screams, growls, and moans, but they whine.
It’s somewhat the same for them as it’s been for liberals. They’re spending their time and energy making the case that things are bad---of course, they mean bad for them---and get so caught up in talking about what’s bad and how bad and why it’s bad and whose fault it is it’s bad they forget there’s anything else.
They don’t have much else, as it turns out. Certainly not real solutions. God will provide or he will punish, that’s about it. Still, as it has with us liberals, constant complaining turns into whining and whining becomes a habit.
One of the things I really enjoy about the Clinton Global Initiative---and I’ve now been to four of the seven meetings in New York City since 2008---is that the discussions take place outside typical notions of liberal and conservative politics.
That is, there’s no whining.
Obviously, this isn’t because no one is making the case that things are bad or talking about what’s bad or how bad or why it’s bad or whose fault it is it’s bad. The news on ebola is getting scarier. In Sierra Leone, new cases are doubling every thirty to forty days. Every twenty seconds a child under five will die from a water-borne disease. More people on earth have access to a cell phone than to a clean glass of water. One point three billion people have no access to electricity. Throughout the world the situations for women and girls continues to be miserable, their rights denied, their opportunities for education and self-improvement non-existent, their health and lives under constant threat.
But the people doing most of the talking are problem-solvers actively at work solving problems or trying to solve them and naturally they prefer to talk about that work and talking about work they love tends to make people sound confident, grounded, practical-minded, grown up, and happy.
Doesn’t mean they get giddy.
The problem-solvers at CGI speak with urgency, concern, anxiety, anger, even fear, although usually on behalf of others. The get frustrated, exasperated, and discouraged. They try to be pragmatic and realistic and not let their hopes carry them away. But they’re all still hopeful and optimistic, some enthusiastically, excitedly, energetically, infectiously so. A few come across as professional optimists.
One of the most optimistic I heard speak at this year’s meeting was Peter Diamandis.
Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) is a genomics and cell therapy-based diagnostic and therapeutic company. Using advances in genomic sequencing, the human microbiome, proteomics, informatics, computing, and cell therapy technologies, HLI is building the world’s most comprehensive database on human genotypes and phenotypes to tackle the diseases associated with aging-related human biological decline. HLI is also leading the development of cell-based therapeutics to address age-related decline in endogenous stem cell function. HLI is concentrating on cancer, diabetes and obesity, heart and liver diseases, and dementia.
Probably should have mentioned Diamandis also has a degree from MIT in molecular genetics.
He’s working with a team of billionaires and movie director James Cameron on a plan to mine asteroids. He does not appear to be crazy.
He is a big dreamer. But he has a record of turning his dreams into realities and the realities into money and the money into financing for other dreamers trying to turn their dreams into realities.
Much of his big dreaming sounds like pie in the sky and building castles in the air. He calls it “moonshot thinking.” I’d sum it up as 3D Printing in the Cloud.
Apparently, this is a thing.
I don’t know how it works.
I don’t know how 3D printing anywhere works.
Diamandis does, and it’s one of the many things that make him such an optimist.
Diamandis is inclined to say things like “The world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest opportunities” and “The best way for an entrepreneur to become a billionaire is to help a billion people.”
Referencing Stephen Pinker he’ll tell you we’re living during the most peaceful period in recorded human history.
The bottom line is you think we can handle nine billion people without burning up the planet, and you think we can feed children well-enough so that they can learn, and you believe that through technology widely disseminated we can not only educate people but empower them to create enough income generating activity themselves that we can essentially have a very low structural unemployment level in every country.
Diamandis agreed that that about sums it up.
New technologies succeed by taking what once was scarce and making it abundant, and he’s looking forward to the 21st Century as a time when that will happen on an astounding and unprecedented scale, increasing prosperity around the world.
The big questions are, he says, “How can we do that with literacy? How can we do that with health? How can we use technology to create a scale that allows every child to have the best possible education, the best possible health care, independent of where they live or where they were born?”
Those are rhetorical questions. He knows the answers or at least has a pretty good idea where the answers are coming from.
He’s co-written a book with Steven Kotler that not only makes the case that will happen but shows where and how it is already happening, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think and he and Clinton sat down together to talk about abundance and Abundance, the prospect and the book. Clinton had his copy with him. “I love flacking other people’s books,” he said, holding it up. He loves this book, which he’s clearly read and taken to heart. He read from it as he interviewed Diamandis, but I got the feeling the reading was for show and he could have recited from it from memory.
Clinton started off by asking, “Why are you so optimistic about the future? Don’t you read the papers.”
Diamandis’ offhand answer to the second question was that he tries not to, said in a tone that implied he recommends others try to not too. Too much negativity. Too much focusing on problems and not enough on problem-solving. Too much---he didn’t use the word but I suspect he’d nod knowingly if you did---whining.
The short version of his answer to the first question is: Information, education, technology.
The short version of the short version is: the internet.
A lot of the basis for Diamandis’ optimism is his faith in the increasing utility of the internet as a development tool and delivery system for new technologies, e.g. 3D printing in the cloud.
It’s more than taken for granted by now that the internet is a revolutionary system for delivering information. More people have access to more information than ever before. As Diamandis pointed out to Clinton, “A Maasai warrior in the middle of Kenya today on a smart phone has more access to knowledge and information than you when you were the President twenty years ago.” (Clinton’s self-deprecating response: “That’s a frigtening thought.”) We use it and rely on it, celebrate it and addict ourselves to it, chiefly as a very efficient medium for mass communication.
Well, that, and a convenient way to shop and pay bills without the dirty business of having to deal with real people.
It’s taken for granted that the delivering of information and the communication and virtual social contact that requires and creates are a good in and of themselves.
My own whine is that that’s pretty much all the internet does these days, deliver information that consumers of it can’t use except to entertain ourselves. That’s what makes time online so frustrating and, especially in the cloud banks I tend to hang out in, maddening. (And I mean maddening as in making angry and making crazy.) There’s no material world effect.
Diamandis sees the internet a little differently. Communication, information, and interconnectivity are important but they’re more like fuel. Hearing him talk about it, the birth of the internet sounds more like the invention of the steam engine, the ur-machine whose powering of other machines led to the invention and building of more machines. The internet is a knowledge and technology generator.
Diamandis went on to discuss some areas in which he is most optimistic. Food, energy, and education.
He’s looking forward to the day when, through aquaculture---hydroponics on a grand scale---and vertical farming, cities will be able to feed themselves, growing enough food for all the people living in them at a great savings in energy, manhours, waste, and money, much of that savings due to a marked decrease in transportation costs. As things are, when people in New York go out for a nice dinner, items on the menu travel an average of 1600 miles before landing on their plates. “Los Angeles would starve in I think it’s about three days,” he said, “if you shut down transportation.”
We’re talking about having an XPrize in vertical farming. The notion that we can in fact, in a downtown New York or downtown Dallas or L.A., have a building that is able to capture the sun, is able to finely tune the pH of the water, is able to grow twenty-four hours a day and provide the ideal growing economy.
Meanwhile, the earth is pulsating with abundant but so far untapped energy. He didn’t mean shale oil and wasn’t boosting fracking. He meant geo-thermal and solar. He’s particularly keen on solar.
The earth gets five thousand times more energy from the sun than we use as a species in a year. If you talk to folks like Elon Musk and Ray Kurzweil, [they] believe we’ll reach fifty to a hundred percent energy from the sun in the United States in the [next] twenty years. And the poorest parts of the world are the sunniest parts of the world. So I think we’re headed towards a solar revolution. And if you have abundant energy, you also have abundant clean water. And as you know well, sir, half the disease burden on earth is due to unclean drinking water.
As for education, well, hold on a second.
It was a nice change to be taking part, even if only vicariously, in some problem-solving instead of being a voice in the collective whine. But then Diamandis grew excited about the prospect of Artificially Intelligent “teachers” who would, over the internet, give “personalized” educations to students living far from any schools. Students will be able to attend classes in the cloud with teachers who “know” them and understand their needs and their individual learning styles as well as the best teachers in the best schools in here in the non-virtual world.
“I’m very proud,” Diamandis said, “It was this week, at the United Nations, at the Social Mid-Summit, we announced a fifteen million dollar prize called the Global Learning XPrize.”
We are challenging teams around the world to build a piece of software---not a hardware prize. The cost of hardware’s plummeting.---a piece of software that can take a child anywhere, who’s illiterate, to basic reading, writing, and numeracy in eighteen months. There’s nearly a billion [illiterate] people, two-thirds of those are women, a quarter of a billion are kids, and the notion is that technology is progressing at such a rate that we have the ability, the same way Google democratized access to information, to democratize access to the best teachers.
This sounds great. So does what he went on to say in a minute.
We expect to have hundreds or thousands of teams compete and take the the top five pieces of software and deploy it to five thousand kids throughout Africa and test and see what the best one is, and then open-source the software, with the vision that any Android tablet or phone made in the future will have this software will have this software on it from the start.
It was what he said in between I didn’t like the sound of. Brought out my inner Blade Runner.
Imagine an A.I., or imagine a piece of software that knows a child’s favorite color, sports, actors, presidents and can literally give them a personalized education.
More to the realistic point, I don’t think people want their most intimate relationships to be with software. We need the comfort and sense of companionship that can only come from physical contact with other human beings. We want the tricorder held by Dr McCoy who when he says, “Dammit, I’m a doctor not a bricklayer” is taking our pulse, feeling if we have a fever, and probing for our pain, with hands that can actually lay bricks and do the doctoring. We want Mrs McLean (my fourth grade teacher, the teacher who knew me and understood me best) hovering over our desk, smiling as we figure it out for ourselves that 10 x 12 – 7 = 113. And even more realistically, I doubt that if and when such software is developed it will be only used to staff virtual schoolrooms in the remotest villages in the more undeveloped nations of the developing world.
And here’s where I get skeptical.
New technologies have a history of putting human beings out of work.
The new jobs they employ many fewer people than the ones they replace.
Clinton asked Diamandis about this. He spoke with sincere concern about the continuing scourge of mass joblessness---unfortunately but tellingly using the dreaded phrase: “structural unemployment”---and noted how throughout most of history “except for farmers, most everybody who’s worked has worked for somebody else.” Diamandis believes that in the future the economy will grow and thrive in ways that will encourage and support and even depend on individual enterprise and entrepreneurship---There’s a chapter in Abundance Clinton summed up as being about “the Do It Yourself Economy”---and Clinton wondered how this was going to happen.
The internet, again. Thanks to it, according to Diamandis, by 2020, we will have around five billion people connected online---in 2010 it was 1.8 billion---all of them with access to the newest technologies that,with the help of crowd sourcing, they will be able to teach themselves how to use and put to work in building their own businesses, and then, again, through crowd sourcing, they will be able to find customers and clients they couldn’t imagine reaching before.
That’s three billion new minds entering the global economy, three billion new creators, contributors, trillions of dollars flowing into the economy no one’s speaking about, and these individuals, no matter where they are on the planet, now have access to Google, they have access to A.I., 3D printing on a cloud, they have access to extraordinary technologies. They also have access to crowd funding. There’ll be fifteen billion dollars in crowd funding by 2015, a hundred billion by 2020, so they have access to capital, crowd funding, and we’re now empowered to become entrepreneurs. And I teach this, that the world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest opportunities. The best way for an entrepreneur to become a billionaire is to help a billion people. This kind of beautiful parity exists right now. And a lot of young people in the developing world are entrepreneurs to exist. We’re giving them the tools to up their game.
Ok, never mind 3D printing in the cloud. This does sound like pie in the sky. It also sounds suspiciously like a global and virtual version of the entrepreneurial economy getter known as the service economy which a friend of mine prophetically defined back in the 1980s as a nation of minimum wage workers delivering pizzas to each other and which we Americans have been trying to sell to ourselves for three and a half decades.
Diamandis would almost certainly say that the reason it hasn’t taken off yet is the technology has only just begun to become available. But it is becoming available, more and more of it at a more and more rapid rate.
But I just don’t buy that we’re going to build a vital and expansive economy or a particularly civil or companionable society by having people delivering virtual pizzas to one another in the cloud.
For diabetics and the calorie conscious who steer clear of sugary foods, artificial sweeteners are a blessing. These undigestable synthetic compounds, like aspartame or saccharin, give foods a sweet taste but don't mess with a delicate blood glucose balance or add unwanted girth. Or, that's how they're supposed to work. Scientists are finding, though, that artificial sweeteners may mess with the body in curious ways—maybe even contributing to the problems they were meant to avoid.
In a new study, researchers found that both in mice and in people artificial sweeteners seem to contribute to glucose intolerance—a blanket term for metabolic problems that lead to high blood sugar, such as pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.
And I’ve been thinking I’ve been being so good. Two cups of coffee a day, one Splenda per cup. I treat myself to the rare Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi, but mostly it’s water and unsweetened ice tea with lemon and Splenda instead and it turns out all I’m doing is messing with my microbes and making the diabetes worse?
This is why I shouldn’t read stories about medicine.
…But what is true is that kangaroos have unusually eco-friendly farts. (Yes, you read that correctly.) And that little factoid could help save the world for us human beings.
Here's where the humble kangaroo comes in. Ever since researchers identified kangaroos' unusually "green" farts, they've dreamed of transferring that trait to more popular food animals. See, marsupials are also ruminants, but the majority of the byproducts of their digestion are broken down by specialized bacteria into acetate, which the kangaroo converts into energy.But what is true is that kangaroos have unusually eco-friendly farts. (Yes, you read that correctly.) And that little factoid could help save the world for us human beings.
Okay, let's backtrack a little and talk about methane. This common molecule is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas produced in the United States, and according to the EPA, it has an environmental impact 20 times greater than carbon dioxide. That's because it lasts longer in the atmosphere and thus traps more heat.
The majority of the methane in Earth's atmosphere comes from livestock. A single cow can produce 53 to 132 gallons of methane a day just by belching. And as the world's population grows, so will the number of cows belching methane into the air…
These days, professor Athol Klieve of the University of Queensland in Australia is pushing forward in studying the secrets of the kangaroo's relatively flatulence-free lifestyle.
Dr. Klieve believes that if we can figure out how to transfer the microbes responsible—in this case, several species of reductive acetogen bacteria—into cattle, we could put a huge dent in the amount of methane produced worldwide.
Now let’s take out our phones. Yes, you in the pink scarf—Paula. Hello, Paula. You can never find your phone. Does anyone have a suggestion for Paula? She can never find her phone. Suggestions? A special pocket in her bag. O.K., Paula doesn’t have a special pocket. Another suggestion? She can put it in her jacket pocket. That’s a great suggestion. That’s where I generally have my—O.K., Paula, you don’t want to keep it in your jacket, because then when it rings it scares you? Because why? Because it rings when it’s not supposed to. O.K., well, let’s—no, Paula, go right ahead. You just root around in your bag and shout, “I’m coming!” when it rings? O.K., well, Paula, that’s interesting, but it’s not a solution.
Rotterdam, New York. Thursday morning around nine. April 24, 2014. Posted from the road.
I’d never seen one of these before. Wonder how much business it does and who’s using it. There are probably companies and government agencies in the area with fleets of vehicles that run on natural gas but I’d expect them to have their own filling stations. But are there private cars out there running on natural gas? Who makes them? What’s their range? How do they work? Do they work? Guess I’ve got some googling ahead of me when I get home.
More than the romantic adventures and misadventures, more than any late night conversations about books and writing, more than anything read or said in the workshops, more than the arguments friendly and not so friendly at the bars after class, more than that day in class when, armed with a gift from Uncle Merlin just arrived in the mail, I jumped on the seminar table and, after declaring him a fugitive from intergalactic justice, zapped Ron Hansen with my brand-new toy ray gun which lit up red and yellow and made satisfyingly loud buzzing and humming noises, and then ran from the room shouting that the Federation had been avenged, and more even than any actual writing I did, my time at the Iowa Writers Workshop is defined in my memory by the image of my typewriter sitting in a circle of light on my makeshift desk in my bedroom in the house I shared with six other grad students on the street where Flannery O'Connor lived when she was at the Workshop forty years before. It’s eight or nine o’clock on a Friday night. I’ve just come upstairs with a cup of coffee or can of Pepsi, ready to spend the next three hours pounding away to earn the reward of catching up with friends at whatever watering hole they’d be watering at around midnight.
I loved that time. I loved that typewriter. It had been with me forever, my eighth grade graduation gift from Mom and Pop Mannion. The world was still very young then. PC’s were appearing on desktops all over the country and a few of my friends and classmates had them. Some of my friends made use of the University’s computer labs. But for the most part all the writing done in Iowa City was done on typewriters. We typed out our stories and our poems and our letters home and it’s a wonder all the windows in town didn’t rattle day and night from the vibration and noise.
I’m not nostalgic for typewriters. I was a slow and inexpert typist and I never had enough Liquid Paper on hand. Desktop computers and then laptops were godsends. But I still wish I had a working typewriter, just for the fun of it. Because they are fun to write on. They make noise. They encourage violence in art, like action painting. Using them made writing feel like real work. Mark Twain used a typewriter. Hemingway used a typewriter. Clark Kent used a typewriter.
As long as we talked of nothing else but typewriters.
Remingtons from the 1930s go THICK THICK. Midcentury Royals sound like a voice repeating the word CHALK. CHALK. CHALK CHALK. Even the typewriters made for the dawning jet age (small enough to fit on the fold-down trays of the first 707s), like the Smith Corona Skyriter and the design masterpieces by Olivetti, go FITT FITT FITT like bullets from James Bond’s silenced Walther PPK. Composing on a Groma, exported to the West from a Communist country that no longer exists, is the sound of work, hard work. Close your eyes as you touch-type and you are a blacksmith shaping sentences hot out of the forge of your mind.
Try this experiment: on your laptop, type out the opening line of “Moby Dick” and it sounds like callmeishmael. Now do the same on a 1950s Olympia (need one? I’ve got a couple) and behold: CALL! ME! ISHMAEL! Use your iPad to make a to-do list and no one would even notice, not that anyone should. But type it on an old Triumph, Voss or Cole Steel and the world will know you have an agenda: LUGGAGE TAGS! EXTENSION CORDS! CALL EMMA!
You will need to make space for a typewriter and surrender the easy luxury of the DELETE key, but what you sacrifice in accuracy will be made up in panache. Don’t bother with correcting tape, white-out or erasable onionskin paper. There is no shame in type-overs or XXXXXXiing out a word so mistyped that spell-check could not decipher it. Such blemishes will become the personality of your typing equal to the legibility, or lack thereof, of your penmanship.
Waiting for our order to come up at the pizza joint. ABC News on the TV on the wall. Watched a story about dolphins and how ceteologists think they’ve learned that dolphins call each other by name. At least I think that’s what the story was about. As soon as I saw the pictures of dolphins on the screen I stopped listening to the TV and started singing this song in my head.
Man or woman, gay or straight, if you don’t love Stephen Fry as much as we do here at Mannionville Gas & Electric, then you just don’t know Stephen Fry. Reader Hank left the link to this video as a comment on Rachel Bloom’s serenade to Ray Bradbury in the previous post. Hank thinks Molly Lewis’ serenade to Fry is as brilliant in its own, somewhat shyer way, and I agree.
The time required for an object to fall twenty stories is greater than or equal to the time it takes for whoever knocked it off the ledge to spiral down twenty flights to attempt to capture it unbroken.
Also be prepared to explain the Stooge’s surcease as defined by Isaac Newton.